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Monday, February 23, 2009

Organized Producers

If you value freedom you probably feel overwhelmed. As the state uses the economic "crisis" resulting from its control of the economy to justify seizing more control of the economy all to the cheers of the nation's bankrupt intellectuals and amid the resigned passivity of its pragmatist businessmen, the sense that the world and civilization itself is spiraling downward is palpable . I swing from trying to maintain a historical perspective ("it's been much worse") to the sense that something fundamentally different is occurring from which there is no return. I swing from the desire to mount an armed assault on Washington (just kidding, Big Brother...just kidding) to a feeling of morbid optimism that this acceleration of economic pain might crystallize the difference between freedom and statism so gravely as to galvanize some sort of grass roots intellectual awakening (see the Chicago Tea Party). Against this catastrophic milieu of accelerating statism and hysterically vacuous post modernism, the rational question is: what can we do?

Being overwhelmed usually stems from an inability to prioritize a set of problems. I once read a saying that "when everything is important, nothing is important." Rather than accept this condition, let's go beyond the relatively vague and overwhelming question: "what can we do?" and focus on more precise questions such as: under the current conditions what type of approach will be most effective, what can we realistically accomplish, what must wait, and what conditions would give rise to different types of action?

In considering the question of "what do we do?", I came across some fascinating Q&A with Ayn Rand in the book, Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A, Edited by Robert Mayhew. Although the context was that Rand was giving these answers in the 1960's or 1970's, her answers are certainly pertinent today. I only quote a few questions and answers below so I recommend getting the book for more details.

Q: What political steps should be taken to achieve your goals?

AR: I do not work for or advocate any new political party. It's much too early for that. But since many of you are Republicans and interested in local politics, I'd say that politics must begin with an idea. You cannot win elections with isolated slogans used once in four years. If anything practical can be done, it is this: Work out a consistent set of principles, and teach it to the people in your party: precinct workers, local candidates, and perhaps national candidates. Teach them the case for capitalism. Demand-morally, proudly, unapologetically-a return to full capitalism.

This cannot be done overnight, so don't be crusaders in the impractical sense of demanding immediate change. But hold out that goal to people. Instead of socialists promising people public support, hold out the promise of freedom, and proceed step-by-step toward it. Formulate a policy of what controls should be repealed first, and what steps could achieve a fully decontrolled economy. But above all, base your program on a full knowledge of the history of, and the case for, capitalism, and a full defense of capitalism against the accusations and misconceptions preached by the left.

Begin in the high schools and colleges, because that is the source of future politicians and men of action. You can achieve nothing in a political election if you neglect the institutions where ideas are formed. Make sure the educational institutions where ideas are formed. Make sure the educational institutions can teach individualism and capitalism. You shouldn't aim for control of the schools; you should support those in your schools who are good, as the leftist support their advocates. Whereas liberals stand by any liberal teacher or writer or columnist, conservatives do not do the same for their own. Conservatives do no show enough interest in ideas and ideological consistency. Develop that consistency. First convince yourself of the case for capitalism, then preach ideology.

Learn to defend you case so that no liberal could answer it. If you compare the state of West Germany to East Germany, you have an object lesson right there - if you know how to present and analyze it. Don't apologize for capitalism. Don't allow it to be denounced as a system of selfish greed. But you cannot do any of this so long as you simultaneously pay lip service to altruism. Learn the morality implied in the Declaration of Independence, document that today isn't quoted enough nor sufficiently understood. The Objectivist ethics is merely the philosophically-worked-out proof of what the Founding Fathers implied in the Declaration.

If you do all of this, you could save the world without the loss of a single American life, because all the totalitarian monsters would collapse. The battle is moral and philosophical. Do not believe in Russia's power; do not believe their threats. They would run, as they twice ran in their war with Finland. Russia is winning strictly by default. The only way to stop her is with a proper anti-altruist, American morality.

Q: Is a major revolution necessary to solve our country's problems, or is the solution to be found piecemeal?
AR: Neither. The major revolution happened in 1776. You don't stage a revolution against a country still following its basic principles. But neither is the solution to fight piecemeal. The only way to fight for a cause is intellectually - that is, philosophically, which is to say in terms of fundamental principles. When you fight in this way, it's as if you're an intellectual wholesaler rather than a retailer. You cover a whole field by means of appropriate principles, instead of fighting piecemeal, which is what activists today are trying-and they're failing.

Q: Could You Comment on the ineptness of political advisers in America? Is it the result of stupidity or malice?
AR: Stupidity, of course. You're flattering them if you think it's malice. They don't know any better, which isn't' a crime. What is a crime is that they don't want to know any better. After all, people in politics are only the last result of the educational and cultural trends in a country. They aren't the cause of anything. They are cashing in on what they've been told, which is exclusively collectivism and statism. They see that it doesn't work, but they're unable to think of what could work. They can't return to capitalism; nobody told them to. [bold mine]
I think there are several important principles implied - most importantly, we need to be principled. Our emphasis should be on proudly advocating a consistent ideology (particularly, the morality of capitalism) and then particular issues can be prioritized as needed. It is not a contradiction to pursue concrete political action and remain principled. It is essential to do both. Advocating for a single issue out of context is useless but if you advocate for particular issues in the context of an overall philosophical framework you can succeed on a massive scale. We can not hope to change everything instantly. We need to focus on particular issues politically while at the same time trying to change the dominant ideology of the universities. I think another important principle is to be careful not to focus exclusively on particular politicians. It certainly is important to understand the politicians for self-protection and to understand the trends in the culture but it is a mistake to think that a particular politician is more of a cause rather than an effect. Another is that a third party is a waste of time. I think we need to change one of the major parties.

With that in mind, you might ask: do we have time for such an approach? Under what conditions do we "take to the streets" so to speak? Despite the profound increase in government intervention into the economy, my personal tipping point gets closer as I hear discussion related to bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine”. As we know, the major media outlets are mostly controlled by leftist cheerleaders sympathetic to statism. However, the “fairness doctrine” represents a direct assault on the freedom of speech and is a major step towards full state control of the media. Without the freedom to think or speak freely, civilization is doomed. We have no chance. Ayn Rand addressed this issue in the Q&A.
Q: You've said it would be proper to revolt if the government established censorship. Has that time come?

Fortunately, not yet, or I couldn't be giving this speech and you couldn't be listening to it. Censorship operates as it did in Nazi Germany and does in Soviet Russia. It's total government-enforced uniformity of opinion, ultimately under penalty of death. We haven't reached that point, and I don't think the government will get away with it here, at least not yet. Even in Russia (where I witnessed the process), after the Communists seized power, they didn't establish total censorship immediately. It took years of gradual steps, each one a trial balloon. They got away with it through smaller encroachments, until they established total censorship. They won't get away with it here, because the basic premises of the American people are still pro-freedom. But basic premises alone won't do any good. We must be aware of the advance of censorship. And if the government begins wholesale suppression, then it's proper to revolt.

Along with "hate speech laws" (as I detailed here), the "Fairness Doctrine" is definitely a "trial balloon" and warrants careful attention. I hold that this should be a major political issue for Objectivists.

Let me add one final point. In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand showed us that evil is not powerful in and of itself. It takes the sanction of the victim. In Atlas Shrugged, the producers go on strike and leave the "looters" to themselves. As we all know, the step preceding a strike is the process of organizing the would be strikers in an effort to change things. I think it is time to organize the producers. What does this mean? It means efforts to be heard not just by newspapers and politicians but especially by the productive – to the corporations, the business owners, the doctors, the engineers - those upon which civilization most depends. Organizing productive people to fight for their ideals is difficult because, well, they are productive. We all are devoted to our careers, our spouses and our families. It’s easier for the left because they are usually unemployed and have a lot of time on their hands.

Fortunately, there are some great organizations already focusing on activism and we can take advantage of the division of labor, i.e., just give them some money and let them do it. First and foremost I advocate supporting:

The Ayn Rand Institute and The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights

[update thanks to Burgess Laughlin: here is ARC's "activism" page:]

My friends at SimplyCapitalism and Galileo Blogs put me on to the following activist oriented sites which I recommend checking out but don't know much about them except what I've seen:

The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism


[update: I forgot to mention BB&T charitable grant program that has been funding studies of the morality of capitalism now in over 40 colleges and universities. Hear, Hear, to John Allison and BB&T!]

Please feel free to comment and offer any other suggestions or links.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Very interesting, indeed.

My husband is one of those engineers, and he and I read Atlas Shrugged last summer, contributing to the increasing sales of that title. We are re-reading it now, as it is so prophetic, and you see and hear more of the craft of Rand's writing the second time through.

I agree. It is time to organize the producers. We are planning to take part in the Tea Party. That was a magnificent shout heard 'round the world, wasn't it?

I think I will order the book you mentioned, as well. We are much closer to the cesorship that Rand mentioned now than we were in the seventies, and much, much closer to Fascism.

garret seinen said...

Timely and on-the-money, thanks Doug. After rereading her, it is so easy to see how very persuasive and articulate she was.
The only effective arguments I been able to get support for is the very simple ones. I know that its the 'crow epistemology' we need to keep in mind when making our arguments as both, the miss education and the general lack of education in respect to economics and capitalism is so widespread.
Capitalism vs statism and forget all the variants, traders with or without a middleman, free market or interventionist and your right to your own effort. Most importantly, correctly identifying the true cause of a problem when capitalism is blamed.
In truth, as Ayn Rand says, education of the young, change the universities, then it will end. The best we can hope for is to slow things down and be sure there is something left till ARI finishes its work. But the fight can be fun if you stock your personal lifeboat, and we don't need to find a valley as long as we have the 'net'.
gary seinen

Burgess Laughlin said...

> "In considering the question of "what do we do?", I came across some fascinating Q&A with Ayn Rand in the book, Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A . . ."

Other resources are:

1. "What Can One Do?" in Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It.

2. "Don't Let It Go" in Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It.

3. The title essay in Ayn Rand's anthology, For the New Intellectual.

4. The three-lecture series, "Cultural Movements: Creating Change," by Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate.

The last one, which is packed with useful information, was the subject of a six week study in Study Groups for Objectivists. I recommend the lectures series highly. It is available on The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights website, under the Activism tab, the last time I checked. Or use the search function for "Cultural Movements: Creating Change."

Realist Theorist said...

First a minor correction. The RealistTheorist blog you linked to isn't mine. When I thought up the realistTheorist@gmail.com address and started using it a year or more ago, I never thought to block the same name for a blog. Someone else took it. Should have known better, but that's the net... so many different people can use the same name in different places.

Back on topic: loved the post. It is always enjoyable to read snippets like that from Rand, to be reminded of why I love her.

I agree about the "Fairness doctrine". Come to think of it, it should be an issue that some radio-stations would be happy to air. I wonder if delving into the history of its removal ism one way to add one some meat, to convince people of the importance of not bringing it back.

The Rat Cap said...

The "activism" link at ARC that Burgess referenced is:


I will change the Realist Theorist link asap in the post (sorry..)

Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the post. I must say that I strongly sympathize with your sentiments and have also wondered about the topic.

A few thoughts come to mind.

“to a feeling of morbid optimism that this acceleration of economic pain might crystallize the difference between freedom and statism so gravely as to galvanize some sort of grass roots intellectual awakening”

I don’t see much hope of this until people have the ideas necessary to make such an identification. At the moment every downswing seems to accelerate the adoption of the same bad ideas that got us here in the first place. And I don’t see much reason to think that just by virtue of the problems becoming more severe, people will somehow begin to question all their assumptions and ideas—rather, absent new intellectual leaders, they’re likely just to hunker down and become less intellectual and introspective. At least that’s what seems to have happened with the fall of Rome.

“It is not a contradiction to pursue concrete political action and remain principled. It is essential to do both. Advocating for a single issue out of context is useless but if you advocate for particular issues in the context of an overall philosophical framework you can succeed on a massive scale.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in this. And I’d add that by fighting on a particular, concrete issue, you can learn and clarify (to yourself) a lot about what an abstract principle means and entails. Such clarification can then reverberate to your understanding of the system as a whole. Or at least that’s been my personal experience.

In a like vein, I think before one advocates, one should be relatively confident in the truth and consistency of one’s ideas. So reading and studying are the sine qua non of effective activism. And here, in addition to the links you mention, I’d suggest auditing the class “Seminar on Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism” or even participating in the whole curriculum of the Objectivist Academic Center http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_academic_auditing (Disclosure, I’m related to the instructor, but I don’t think that my opinion would change were that not the case.)

I’d also suggest supporting the Undercurrent (whether as an author, by distributing it or by financial contributions) since it targets part of the audience you mention. http://the-undercurrent.com/

Thanks again for this and your many other interesting posts.